Okay, so you've visited Disneyland or the Walt Disney World Resort. But you want more. You want to go behind the scenes and experience life like an insider — watching Disney's Imagineers at work, walking the backlot of the Disney Studios and discovering the unseen history of the Walt Disney Company. How do you do it?
Disney offers its fans much more than theme parks as vacation options. Among the many different tours and experiences you can book through Disney are several that will get you behind-the-scenes or backstage access to parts of the company rarely seen by its theme park visitors. Of course, these opportunities come at a price, but that price can vary wildly, so let's look at some of your options for an insider's visit to Disney.
The simplest, most comprehensive option also is — as one might expect — the most expensive. But it also provides the only guaranteed access to the toughest "get" for Disney theme park fans — a visit inside the Walt Disney Imagineering headquarters in Glendale.
As the editor of Theme Park Insider and a newspaper columnist, I've had the privilege of being invited by Disney to tour Imagineering and sit down to talk with top Imagineers on several occasions. And as jaded as I sometimes can be having covered this industry for decades, walking into Imagineering never fails to amaze me. That said, if you forced me to choose between visiting WDI in Glendale or one of its finished works in Anaheim, Orlando, Paris, Tokyo, Shanghai, or Hong Kong, I'm spending my money to visit the theme park. Hey, eating the sausage is more fun than watching it get made, right?
But for fans who know those parks by heart, getting the chance to discover a new perspective on them by visiting the place where they were designed can be an amazing and rewarding experience. Adventures by Disney offers two Southern California tours that include a visit to Walt Disney Imagineering: a six-day itinerary that includes days in Hollywood and the Disneyland Resort and a four-day "short escape" that skips Hollywood and compresses the Disneyland visit.
Both tours also include trips to the Walt Disney Studios lot and Disney Archives in Burbank, which is the next suburb over from Glendale. Keep in mind that Glendale and Burbank lie on the other side of Los Angeles from Anaheim in Orange County, so there's a long freeway haul between those destinations and Disneyland. But Adventures by Disney will cover that for you, providing transportation between all tour destinations so you don't have to navigate SoCal freeways.
The price ain't cheap: up to $3,899 per adult for the six-day tour and $2,369 per adult for the four-day one, based on double occupancy in Disney's Grand Californian hotel and Loews Hollywood Hotel (and, let's be honest, getting someone else to drive you and your family up and down the 5 at rush hour). The price includes all admissions and some meals, but if you are willing to forgo the Imagineering visit, you can book other insider elements of the tour for less, through other means.
The next best option to get inside access to Disney is to join D23, the company's official fan community. D23 offers several members-only events during the year, including tours of the Disney Studios lot, visits to the Archives, and "Lunch with an Imagineer" events. These events sell out quickly, in large part because the prices are typically an order of magnitude (or two!) less than the Adventures by Disney extravaganzas.
At the Disneyland Resort, you can book separately the guided tours included in the Adventures by Disney packages. The "Walk in Walt's Footsteps" tour, for example, costs $109 per person (on top of the required theme park admission) and includes front-of-line access to selected attractions that opened during Walt's life and often includes a visit to Walt's apartment above Town Square, which is not otherwise open to the public. (The Walt's apartment visit is not guaranteed.)
At the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, you can get even more backstage access through the $275 Backstage Magic tour, which includes a glimpse at the famous Magic Kingdom tunnels.
Have you experienced any of these behind-the-scenes opportunities for Disney theme park fans? Were they worth the price? Which ones would your recommend? And what other experiences would you like to see Disney offer its fans? Please share your thoughts in the comments.Tweet
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